Asian automakers once again dominated reliability tests and consumer preference surveys, the US Consumer Reports magazine said in its 2007 new car preview, though US automakers are steadily improving with cars like Ford's new Fusion model.
"You're almost chasing a moving target," said David Champion, senior director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, on Thursday who presented the findings from the magazine's annual reliability survey and testing in Detroit. "The quality of cars has improved dramatically."
The Fusion and the Mercury Milan were among the top-ranked family cars for predicted reliability, on par with the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The magazine bases its reliability forecasts on information provided by consumers for the past three model years. In the case of the Fusion and the Milan, the rating is based on only one model year because the vehicles were new this year.
Overall, Japanese automakers had 39 of the 47 vehicles with the best predicted reliability. US manufacturers had six, including the Fusion, the Milan and the Lincoln Zephyr -- all from Ford Motor Co.
General Motors Corp did well in large sport utility vehicles, earning top ratings for their Chevrolet Tahoe and the GMC Yukon, again based on one year of surveys because the trucks were redesigned. GM's Pontiac Vibe wagon was another top-scorer.
Champion said the key for Ford and GM will be maintaining the success in the coming years.
"It's that last year that [a consumer] owns the car that's probably most important in terms of reliability," he said. "If it's been pretty reliable over the first three years and then the fourth, fifth and sixth year it's dropped apart, he's not going to buy another one."
Consumer Reports also listed the Fusion among the new or redesigned vehicles that most impressed its testers, saying its smooth ride and good handling made it feel "like a much more expensive European car."
Champion said the Hyundai Azera sedan was another pleasant surprise and praised it as "very comfortable, very quiet," with a good price, though he said fuel economy was not a strong point.
Other hits among new or redesigned vehicles were the Kia Sedona and the Mazda5.
Among the biggest disappointments was the Dodge Caliber crossover, the magazine said, calling its acceleration sluggish, its fuel economy unimpressive and its interior cheap.
The magazine also criticized the Subaru B9 Tribeca, the Mitsubishi Eclipse and the Pontiac Solstice.